Local volunteers carry on decades- long traditionBy DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – A crew of about 250 volunteers, from adults to scouting organizations and local school children, have hauled 2,700 pounds of trash from the Martinez shoreline.
They filled 370 large garbage bags with fast food wrappers, cigarette butts and other types of garbage.
They were participating in Saturday’s California Coastal Cleanup, part of the largest international volunteer effort, said Carolyn Jones, spokesperson for the East Bay Regional Parks District that organizes the local segment of the international project.
“We got a lot of kids, scout troops and high school and junior high school students,” Jones said. “They worked by the shoreline from the Martinez Marina to the west shoreline, into the marsh and up Alhambra Creek,” she said.
Most of the trash was the conventional type – waste paper and remains of cigarettes, she said. “In the past, we had more weird stuff,” Jones said.
Other cleanup participants reported finding typewriters and clothing Saturday morning.
For those scouring Martinez waterways, the most unusual item they found was a rototiller. “Parts of it anyway,” Jones said. That was hauled out of the marsh, she said.
Participants started by 8:30 a.m. Saturday, although some may have been on site and picking up trash earlier. They were on duty until noon.
By then, Lynne De Vaney had hot dogs, burgers and other picnic-styled foods ready for their lunch.
“I started 27 years ago,” she said. She was invited by Jeannie Marrs, then a branch manager of a local bank. “When the Coastal Cleanup started, (Marrs) did the barbecue,” De Vaney said. Since De Vaney is involved in environmental issues, both professionally and privately, she accepted Marrs’ invitation. When Marrs was transferred to a different bank branch, De Vaney took over the barbecue.
During the years, she’s seen plenty of volunteers, many of whom are children. But she’s seen city officials, county supervisors and even U.S. Rep. George Miller, the Martinez resident who represented this city in the House, take turns picking up trash.
This year, her husband, Dave, and her assistant, Carmen Milholland, joined her in flipping burgers.
“I feel blessed to have done the barbecue in past years. We need to get more young people involved – they’re smart!” she said. “Coastal Cleanup is close to my heart.”
“This was a quiet year,” Jones said. The Coastal Cleanup had fewer participants in Martinez than in past years, something De Vaney also noticed.
Volunteers picked up fewer bags of trash Saturday than they’ve done in years past, too. But Jones said she believes that’s because there’s less trash in the first place.
“Probably the shoreline is cleaner,” she said. “Maybe people are getting the message.”
The message she wants to share is people should think twice about how they discard trash, and to make sure to dispose of it properly.
“It flows directly to the ocean and goes to the giant garbage patch,” she said, referring to the Pacific Ocean’s gyre that has become a gargantuan collection point for plastics, sludge and other trash.
Estimates for the size of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” range from 270,000 square miles, or roughly the size of Texas, to 5.8 million square miles, or about twice the size of the continental United States.
The gyre, which rotation patterns draw waste material from throughout the north Pacific Ocean, is one of several marine garbage patches, or trash vortexes, found throughout the world.
It was discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, a competitive sailor who had participated in the Transpac sailing race. He reported it and sent samples of the trash he found to oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who called it a garbage patch.
“The fish and birds and mammals eat this stuff and die,” Jones said.
Trash causes other environmental problems, too, she said. “Some dissolves and the chemicals leach into the ground and poison the water.” Other types litter the beach. “It’s plain ugly, from an aesthetic view,” she said.
A lot of the trash hasn’t been tossed there directly by the careless and uncaring, she said. “A lot washes up on the beach, or rain washes it down.”
The Martinez effort is part of an international campaign that began in this state in 1985 by the California Coastal Commission, and was instigated in 1984 in Oregon by Judie Neilson who got tired of seeing litter along her coastline.
The Ocean Conservancy became involved because of the worldwide marine debris problem revealed when it was asked by the Environmental Protection Agency to study plastics in the ocean.
One participant was so disgusted by the trash she saw during a study of South Padre Island, Texas, that she recruited 2,800 volunteers who picked up 124 tons of trash in three hours.
The Coastal Cleanup expanded into other states and has spread to other countries, where volunteers turn out to collect cigarettes, filters, food wrappers, caps, lids, bags, cups, plates, utensils, straws and stirrers, glass and plastic beverage bottles, cans, construction materials and other debris so the junk can get proper disposal.
“The Coastal Cleanup cleans up garbage where it congregates. The public help is hugely appreciated. This is one of the biggest volunteer days in the world,” Jones said. “Imagine if the trash isn’t picked up – think about it!”
She said the Coastal Cleanup not only is a physical action that improves waterside areas, it also reminds people to think about trash, about keeping it picked up, about recycling and about biodegradable products.
“This was a great day,” Jones said. “We had great weather, and everyone had a great time.”